School age extension coming

The mandatory school age in Cayman will be raised by one year under changes now being drafted in the country’s Education Law.

The revamped Education Bill is expected to be released for public discussion later this year. The bill would require a supporting vote of the Legislative Assembly before taking effect.

‘One of the fundamental changes that law is going to make…it’s going to increase the mandatory age or compulsory age of schooling in Cayman from 16 to 17,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said during a Thursday press briefing.

The extension of the school age is a crucial component in sweeping changes being planned for the Cayman Islands public school system, which are due to go into effect in 2009.

‘Beyond Year 11, all students will be required to continue their education for a minimum of one year, by choosing from a significantly enhanced range of subject options,’ Mr. McLaughlin added. ‘This is the critical stage for entry into the workforce or further education and supports the principle of offering a personalised learning experience to students.’

The possibility of extending Cayman’s school age is one that has been discussed for years. Educators and lawmakers have largely supported the change because it better prepares students for university, and allows those who choose to enter the workforce to mature further.

However, Mr. McLaughlin has previously pointed out that simply bumping up the school age to 17 or even 18 isn’t as easy as it sounds.

‘(It) comes with significant cost implications,’ he said during a Legislative Assembly debate last year (see Caymanian Compass, 27 November). ‘If we insist that secondary education is necessary to age 17 or 18, we need to find accommodation for those students.’

Increasing the school age is one of the reasons Mr. McLaughlin has given for plans to build three new high schools on the island, as well as a new elementary school in George Town. He declined to give specifics for how much construction of those new schools might cost.

‘We haven’t increased the resources to accommodate the growth,’ he said. ‘What we’ve done is to squeeze onto the existing sites until we almost had chaos at George Hicks until we split that into four smaller areas.’

Once the three new high schools are built they will give the country the capacity to house another 2,250 students.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have largely agreed on extending the school age.

George Town MLA Lucille Seymour has said younger, less educated kids provide ‘ideal fodder for drug dealers and pimps.’ Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden described himself as a ‘late bloomer’ in school who has said he would have benefited if Cayman had extended its mandatory school age.

Opposition MLAs also supported a private member’s motion made by Ms Seymour in November that urged government to extend the country’s school age. However, West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin warned that some job training would be needed beyond secondary education to allow Caymanians to compete in the international work force.

‘If you give employers the choice, they are more likely going to choose the more experienced person,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘We need to ensure young people are given the opportunity to get their foot in the door.’

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